Personalization: Are We Kidding Ourselves?

Last fall, due to what I only know how to describe as “some sort of software glitch,” my laptop would not boot and I was forced to completely reset it. Fortunately, I was able to save almost all of my files, so when presented with a completely clean laptop, my primary concern was getting everything back to exactly how it was set up before. I created my five different desktop spaces, each with the same background images. I set the text highlighter color to be dark green. I copied all my files and folders back to where they were (an example of my system of organization I was so eager to save includes untitled folders 1, 2, 3, and 5, and a folder named helpfully as “THINGS.”) The biggest tragedy was that the plethora of Sticky Notes I kept on my Mac’s dashboard were not saved, so the assorted detritus of largely useless information I kept there was lost for the ages.

All of our devices come with so many settings for personalization and modification. We use them to make our devices feel more like our own. Yet, all of the changes I just described as being so vital to make are purely aesthetic. They have very little to do with the actual work my laptop does or I do with it. I wanted to restore the appearances to what I was used to, but if that had not been possible I would have undoubtedly become accustomed to something new. Android’s slogan “Be Together, Not The Same” touts it’s superior customization potential to Apple products. I used to have an Android phone, and to my layperson memory, most of those additional options were just more aesthetic changes.

Android-be-togather-but-not-the-same.pngWhen it comes to changes that actually affect performance, most of us are more in the dark. I still can’t tell you with any real details what happened to my laptop that resulted in near disaster, and so all I’ve been able to do to prevent a repeat is update to the latest OS and backup my data more regularly. Even on devices like my camera, where settings should be more straightforward, there are preferences I don’t understand and am forced to hope and assume that the default setting will be in ordinary circumstances the best one. (Perhaps I am too naive.) I would have assumed that to be the case when exporting video from various editing programs until a website told me otherwise. Now my I have changed those default settings in a way that a YouTube tutorial told me to, not fully understanding what I was changing, but the results seemed to work.

Everything is programmable, but there are many settings that can make us feel like we have control over our devices, when in actuality we have done little other than change a few colors. Significant setting changes often come with frightening warnings, telling users that if they toggle the wrong thing they could completely mess up the application or their device. I think it is okay that these aesthetic settings exist. I am glad that people who do not currently have the time or resources to learn the intimate details of their devices are still able to use them. But maybe someday more of us will understand how to do more than just change our wallpaper, and the settings will be designed to help us truly personalize our devices instead of trying to scare us off.

-Amelia Burger

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~ by ameliaburger on May 11, 2016.

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